real life

Eight shocking child birth trends from the past

Giving birth for an audience, cow-poo as a pain reliever and a 30-day visitor ban. Child birth practices have always been controversial

Do you realise how lucky we are to be giving birth today? We’re surrounded by love, support, the latest medical knowledge, clean sheets and plenty of time to bond with our new babies. It wasn’t always like this.

How did women endure some of these ancient birthing practices (although there are a couple we secretly quite fancy!)

1. Multiple strangers watching you ‘perform’

For hundreds of years, royal women were forced to give birth in front of the court, often an audience of up to 70 people. This was more true of royal births in Europe when a potential heir to the throne was being born. It would really restrict your choice of language during contractions.

Puritan women were also expected to give birth with a crowd of up to 10 women including her mother-in-law and a handful of neighbours.

2. Chairs were used instead of beds

This probably makes a bit of sense. These days we're propped up in those short beds that give doctors access to the baby emerging from our birth canal. Ancient Greeks used chairs instead. They had armrests she could grab onto, which saved her having to leave finger nail marks on her partners arms.

The strangest part of this practice was when they decided to cut a hole in the chair for the baby to fall through. Can anyone say catch?

3. Off with that hair!

Look, these days lots of women get a pre-baby wax, but 1950s Britain, there was no choice in the matter. Pubic hair was usually always shaved ahead of childbirth just in case the baby got lost down there. They also often had enemas which still occur today. The English were big on this. They expected childbirth to be neat and tidy.

4. Women were heavily drugged

In the 1914s, women were drugged to provide pain relief but also to remove the memory of the birth, it was called the 'Twilight Sleep'. The practice lead to a struggle for women who were trying to remain conscious when time came to push so was quickly discontinued. Anyone who has watched Mad Men will remember Betty Draper's 'twilight' birth. Those hallucinations were pretty wild.


We all forget eventually anyway, as evidenced by the number of siblings born in Australia today.

5. Cow poo was used as a pain reliever

In antiquity, cow dung was made into a drink to assist with pain relief. This was later found to be useless but perhaps the horror of what they were being forced to drink and the terrible taste distracted from the pain?

6. You didn't breastfeed your own child

'Wet nurses' were used from 2000 BC until the 20th century. Normally poor women were wet nurses to the babies of wealthier families and also for those women who couldn't produce breast milk. There was no formula and was considered the norm.

These days many women are horrified at the thought of their child being breastfed by another women, however there is now a breast milk bank in Queensland. Nursing mothers make donations and they are used to feed babies of mothers who are ill or cannot produce breast milk.

7. Food was the most popular push present

In biblical times, women were given gifts of chicken soup and sweetmeats. It was a much healthier choice than the chocolates which are often given to new mums today.

The nicest part of this practice is that the food was delivered in beautiful jars which were kept as keepsakes. Bring that one back, we say.

8.  The 30-day lockdown

As fans of Downton Abbey know, women used to be expected to 'lie in' for 30 days after birth before emerging post birth. During this time they followed a diet and tried to recover physically.

These days many women are reembracing the practice, often not emerging until the 6 week vaccination and using that time to recover and see close family and friends only.

Which of these birth trends would you like to see back in fashion?